Mass. Cancels In-Person Bar Exam, Will Test Remotely

By Chris Villani
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Law360 (July 1, 2020, 12:39 PM EDT) -- After pushing the bar exam back to the fall, Massachusetts has opted to be the first state to administer the test remotely due to seating limitations and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the state's Supreme Judicial Court and Board of Bar Examiners announced Wednesday.

The state previously gave bar admission hopefuls a heads up in April that administering an online exam was on the table. Massachusetts was planning to host a Uniform Bar Examination in person on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Hynes Convention Center in Boston, but only if the exam could be "conducted safely, with social distancing in place for all examinees," the state said at the time.

But on Wednesday the SJC and BBE said they had decided that "an alternative, remotely-administered exam for admission to the Massachusetts bar will be offered in lieu of the UBE" on Oct. 5 and 6.

The alternative exam will cover the same content and follow the same format as the UBE and will be administered in four 90-minute sessions over the two days. The top court and bar board said test-takers should prepare as if they were going to take the UBE.

In addition to the announcement regarding the virtual exam, the SJC posted an online set of frequently asked questions that covered, among other topics, the mechanics for how and where the exam will be taken.

"Examinees may take the remotely proctored exam at their home, law school, library or another location of their choice," the state's website reads. "The location must have WiFi access to begin the exam and at the close of the exam. Additionally all examinees are required to have a built-in camera or a webcam for the check-in and for remote proctoring of the exam."

Anyone without access to a quiet test-taking spot can contact the BBE for assistance, and the state promised more information would be forthcoming concerning options for people lacking a good place to take the bar.

Claire Gubak, a representative for the National Conference of Bar Examiners, told Law360 Wednesday that "NCBE is not aware of any other jurisdictions considering administration of a remote or online exam. We understand, however, that jurisdictions are all making difficult decisions about what they need to do under these exceptional circumstances, especially as COVID cases are resurging in some parts of the country."

Massachusetts' exam is considered a remote exam, Gubak said, but the state does require a WiFi connection and a webcam for proctoring purposes.

"NCBE made the remote exam available to all the jurisdictions as an emergency option should administering the in-person exam not be possible," Gubak said. "We remain committed to supporting courts and admission offices as they make decisions on how to safely and effectively license law graduates in 2020."

Since the test is not a full UBE, the score will not be portable, but Wednesday's announcement said that "Massachusetts is working with other jurisdictions who will administer the same remote exam to explore reciprocity."

The BBE also renewed its promise to follow through with speedy grading of the exam and its character and fitness investigations for those hoping to be sworn in and start their careers. The results are slated to be released in mid-December, and in-person admission ceremonies are "tentatively scheduled" for the week of Jan. 11-15, 2021.

The bar exam was originally scheduled for July. Law students have said they are facing added anxiety during an already stressful time due to the uncertainty surrounding the test and when they would be getting results, as well as a decrease in the number of available jobs and a trimming of summer programs.

--Additional reporting by Brian Dowling. Editing by Alyssa Miller.

Update: This article has been updated with additional information about the exam and a comment from the National Conference of Bar Examiners

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